The Website Governance Project (formerly Website Monitoring Team) publishes reports as a primary means of disseminating information. We write synthesis reports that cover broad topics, elucidate patterns of federal agency website changes, and enumerate an array of examples. Synthesis reports arise from a compelling research question that we can answer from our collective monitoring of thousands of federal agency environmental and climate webpages, thorough contextualization, and analysis. During the Trump administration, our work revealed systematic suppression of information relating to environmental rules and regulations, detailed widespread censorship of climate change language across federal agencies, and elucidated patterns in that censorship. We’ve drafted recommendations for the Biden administration to improve federal website governance and protect against information mismanagement in the future.
We also write technical reports about specific topics about which we have observed website changes. Technical reports arise from these observations, rather than from a research question, and focus on conveying the details of website changes rather than contextual analysis. These technical reports have revealed changes such as the Bureau of Land Management deleting critical contextual information about Greater Sage Grouse management during a related regulatory process, and the Department of Energy Office of Technology Transitions removing the phrase “clean energy,” leaving only “energy” in its place. The Website Monitoring Team’s primary type of output for 2017-2018 were technical reports, but the team has focused more on blogs, synthesis reports, and public comments since 2019.
January 20, 2022 — The report Work in Progress: Governance of Digital Environmental Information In the Biden Administration’s First Year presents changes to environmental information available on agency websites at the one year mark under President Biden. It assesses the extent to which harms are addressed and forward progress is made with respect to federal environmental information on agency websites.
December 21, 2021 — Crossing the Line: Analyzing EPA News Releases Under Trump and Ensuring Trust in Federal Information in the Future examines the politicization of EPA’s news releases under the Trump administration and recommends guidelines for protection of the integrity of information coming from the EPA’s press office.
February 25, 2021 — Access Denied: Federal Web Governance Under the Trump Administration examines the Trump administration’s management of federal websites related to environmental regulation and makes recommendations for the Biden administration moving forward. Currently, there are few policies governing website content. This report highlights the need to address these gaps.
February 25, 2021 — We in the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) illustrate how five data visualization techniques can be used to document and analyze changes to government websites. We examine a large sample of websites of US federal environmental agencies and show that between 2016 and 2020: 1) the use of the term “climate change” decreased by an estimated 38%; 2) access to as much as 20% of the Environmental Protection Agency’s website was removed; 3) changes were made more to Cabinet agencies’ websites and to highly visible pages.
July 22, 2019 — In this report, we build on our existing research to present a broad analysis of how the Trump administration has altered the use of terms related to climate change on federal environmental websites.
January 10, 2018 — This report details alterations to many federal agency Web resources about climate change throughout the first year of the Trump administration, including overhauls and removals of documents, webpages, and entire websites, as well as significant language shifts.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: July 28, 2020 |There has been a significant reduction in the financial transparency of the Department of the Interior (DOI). Between March and May 2020, DOI removed the budget justifications for all years prior to FY2020 that had been hosted on its DOI.gov website. The URLs for those budget justifications now register as “Page Not Found.” Additionally, budget request highlights (called “Budget in Briefs”) and budget process testimonies have also been
removed and now register as either “Access Denied” or “Page Not Found.” Through these removals, DOI has significantly impaired public understanding of the financial trajectory of the Department, and impeded public and Congressional oversight
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: June 1, 2020 | In March 2020, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) changed its tagline, highlighted in every DOI webpage (www.doi.gov/) footer, from “Protecting America’s Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future” to “Stewarding Conservation and Powering Our Future.” This represents a trend in the Department’s shifting public image. In 2018, DOI changed the wording of its mission from “…protects and manages…” to “…conserves and manages…,” discarding “protects” after at least 20 years as part of its mission statement. DOI has also shifted its stated priorities in recent years, removing priorities regarding youth engagement, integrated conservation approaches, and climate change, and replacing them with priorities regarding jobs, regulatory reform, protecting the border, fulfilling internal agency goals, and recreation.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: May 4, 2020 | In March 2019, the Department of the Interior (DOI) updated the dropdown list of “Priorities” on its webpages to include a new priority of “Recreation.” The landing page of the new priority included links to recreational resources at four of DOI’s bureaus: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation. The new priority reflected recent actions by DOI and lawmakers to highlight recreational uses of public lands.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: December 10, 2019 | This report covers changes made to the EPA’s Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction (UOG) Effluent Guidelines webpage between July 1 and July 5, 2019, including the removal of information relevant to UOG extraction wastewater management and the final rule’s enforcement. The webpage provides contextual information regarding the promulgation of EPA’s final rule prohibiting the discharge of UOG extraction wastewater into Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs) and the extension of the implementation deadline of this rule for some UOG operators in Pennsylvania. However, as of the date of this report, the webpage does not contain sufficient information for a public audience to understand EPA’s regulatory actions. EDGI recommends that government websites such as this one preserve the historical train of regulatory developments and track changes to their webpages such that the public can view the evolution of the information available online. EDGI further recommends that agencies provide ladders of information on their websites, tailoring content at broad and specific levels for both the general public and audiences more versed in the subject matter at hand.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) | Report written: February 25, 2019 |Different federal agencies managed their web resources differently during the recent 35-day partial government shutdown. Many agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) placed a banner at the top of webpages to inform the public that websites would not be updated, and did not update public datasets. Another agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), blocked access to many web resources by redirecting URLs to a simple government shutdown notice. The lack of maintenance of websites during government shutdowns has historical precedent, such as during the 16-day shutdown in 2013, but we cannot quantify its extent. In the most recent government shutdown, nearly one-third of the NOAA webpages that EDGI monitors (1,045 out of 3,275) redirected to the shutdown notice, including informational pages and data portals for archival climate, atmospheric, oceanic, and environmental data. However, some essential real-time operational data, such as that produced by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), remained available and were regularly updated during the shutdown. Federal agencies have built a web infrastructure in order to deliver data and display important environmental information, but a lack of infrastructural maintenance, such as what transpired during this past government shutdown, has demonstrated how vulnerable that infrastructure can be. In this report we document ways in which different federal agencies managed their web resources during the most recent government shutdown, with particular focus on NOAA. At the end of the report we discuss implications and recommendations for data access and management during future funding lapses.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: February 28, 2019 | Since Summer 2018, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has restricted access to its primary climate change webpage: https://www.doi.gov/climate. This change extends previous content removals from the page reported on by EDGI in 2017. DOI has also removed “Climate Change” from its linked menu of “Our Priorities” on the agency’s home page and restricted access to: https://www.doi.gov/climate/carbonfootprint.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) | Report written: December 18, 2018 | The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed and altered web resources regarding conservation efforts for the sage grouse during the period between March and December 2018, when sage grouse conservation plans have been under revision by BLM.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: October 31, 2018 | Since April 2017, EPA has substituted their climate change subdomain with a splash page stating that these sites were being updated to reflect the views of the Trump administration. In October 2018, EPA modified that splash page to remove any mention of “updating” and to simply state, “We want to help you find what you are looking for.” EPA also removed links to the outgoing administration snapshot (January 19, 2017 snapshot) of the climate change website main page and to the press release about the initial removal of the climate change websites.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: October 9, 2018 | The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) former “Natural Gas Extraction – Hydraulic Fracturing” webpage has been updated to entirely remove the page title and change it to “Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas Development.” A section detailing EPA stakeholder outreach called “Promoting Transparency and Conducting Outreach” was removed. A section called “Convening Stakeholders” was added that highlights EPA partnerships with oil and natural gas sectors. Content and links related to EPA guidance and compliance material on hydraulic fracturing were removed.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) | Report written: September 25, 2018 | The U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has removed links and content related to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and to “Incidental Take” from three webpages in the FWS domain. The FWS “Incidental Take” page itself has also been removed. Additionally, a “public involvement initiative” website of FWS, birdregs.org, that focused on the incidental take of migratory birds, is no longer accessible. The website changes described in this report occurred between December 28, 2017 and April 6, 2018.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) | Report written: July 2, 2018 | In late 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) webpages on climate change were altered to remove mentions of the impact of climate change on occupational safety and health. Climate change mentions and information, including many sentences and a chart detailing the relationship between climate change and workplace health and safety, were removed from pages. An entire page linking to government and academic publications addressing the impact of climate change on worker health and safety was removed.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: April 23, 2018 | The EPA has removed its “International Priorities” page, which listed “Strong Environmental Institutions,” “Climate Change,” “Air Quality,” “Clean Water,” “Toxic Chemicals,” and “E-Waste” as priority areas. Likewise, the “International Grants and Cooperative Agreements” page and links to information about priorities and grant applications were removed from EPA’s International Cooperation website.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: January 9, 2018 | DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed its climate change webpage and altered language on several webpages describing BLM’s mission, management of public lands, and national priorities.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: December 21, 2017 | 92 documents regarding national parks’ response to climate change have been removed from the National Park Service (NPS) “Climate Friendly Parks Program” website. NPS is part of the Department of the Interior. To become a Climate Friendly Parks (CFP) member, parks are required to meet four milestones, which include developing a baseline of greenhouse gas emissions for park operations and completing a park climate action plan. Links to the parks’ action plan documents and to two webpages detailing aspects of two particular parks’ plans have been removed from a list of the Program’s member national parks. No public NPS Web archive has yet been identified, but instructions to email NPS for access to the parks’ action plans have been added.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: December 6, 2017 | The EPA’s Greening EPA website has been altered to remove access to Web resources on climate change adaptation, and to remove wording related to EPA’s own goals for climate change resilience and adaptation. An EPA statement on climate change adaptation and a link to the Statement have been entirely removed. Links to EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plans have been removed from at least two pages on the EPA website. References to EPA’s federal leadership and goals to cover 100 percent of its own electricity use nationwide through purchasing renewable energy have also been removed.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: October 18, 2017 | On April 28, 2017, the EPA removed its website titled “Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments.” Approximately three months later, a new website titled “Energy Resources for State, Local, and Tribal Governments” was launched in its place, with fewer pages and omitting Web resources relating to climate and climate change. All Web tools and certain energy resources appear to have been moved from the previous website to the new one, although a comprehensive comparison has not yet been conducted. The launch of the new “Energy Resources” website is the first example where the EPA has returned content following those April 28th removals.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) | Report written: October 5, 2017 |The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) removed statistics from the “Federal Response Updates” section on its “Hurricane Maria” webpage. Certain subsections and bullet points reporting statistical metrics, quantifying access to electricity and drinking water, were removed. Additional statistics, descriptive bullet points, and images were also updated. This report confirms the changes to FEMA’s “Hurricane Maria” webpage identified by The Washington Post article below.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: September 19, 2017 | The EPA changed language on the SmartWay Program website, reducing mentions of carbon, greenhouse gasses, and climate change. Terms like “sustainability” and “emissions” replaced mentions of “carbon,” and emphasis on international SmartWay and other climate efforts were reduced.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) | Report written: August 20, 2017 | The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has altered climate change language, updated climate change references, and reduced access to a Web resource with information on climate change and human health across several webpages. On the Global Environmental Health pages, the term “climate change” has been changed to “climate” on side menus and page titles. Links to an educational fact sheet about climate change were removed, reducing access to the resource.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) | Report written: August 1, 2017 | Between the evenings of July 27 and July 28, USDA removed substantial portions of its Climate Hubs website. The web content was removed for approximately 5 days without notice or explanation and was returned following media inquiries made with the USDA based on the release of the report above.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: July 12, 2017 | Web resources were removed from the “Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act” page on the EPA’s website. The lack of access to these resources likely originated from mismanagement of web resources during the EPA’s climate change website overhaul, which occurred on April 28, 2017, and not a more recent removal of content.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: June 29, 2017 | The EPA overhauled its website pertaining to the Clean Water Rule. The previous website, which extensively described the Clean Water Rule and its benefits, was replaced by a website providing information about the EPA’s review of the Rule.
Department of Energy (DOE) | Report written: May 20, 2017 | The DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions’ (OTT) Clean Energy Investment Center page has been updated to entirely remove the phrase “clean energy.” The Center’s name was changed from “Clean Energy Investment Center” to “Energy Investor Center” and links to pages on clean energy resources were removed from the OTT website.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: May 5, 2017 | As a result of the EPA’s Climate Change website overhaul, the “A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change” subdomain is no longer accessible via the main EPA website and is incorrectly stated as captured in the EPA’s January 19 snapshot.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Report written: April 28, 2017 |The DOI made changes to its climate change page, removing and re-writing descriptive paragraphs and entire sections on the DOI’s role in addressing climate change.
Note: Reports 12-14 were co-released
Department of Energy (DOE) | Reports written: April 19, 2017 | DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) has made extensive changes to pages pertaining to the Bioenergy Technologies Office, Wind Energy Technologies Office and Vehicles Technologies Office. Stated office priorities were changed to decrease emphasis on renewable fuels as a replacement for fossil fuels and increase emphasis on US jobs and economic growth.
Department of Transportation (DOT) | Report written: April 13, 2017 | The DOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has changed language and titles across multiple pages relating to environmental effects of transportation, such as replacing “climate change” and “greenhouse gases” with terms like “sustainability” and “emissions”.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) | Report written: April 4, 2017 | The GAO page on managing federal oil and gas resources has been edited to change the framework within which natural gas production is discussed. Content on the environmental and public health risks of shale oil and natural gas production was also removed.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: March 28, 2017 | The EPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities program was renamed to Creating Resilient Water Utilities. This change was reflected on the program’s page – all mentions of the word “climate” were removed and terms like “extreme weather” and “resilience” were emphasized.
White House (WH) | Report written: March 22, 2017 | The description and mission statement of the WH’s Office of Science and Technology policy was changed, and major site reorganization occurred.
Department of the Interior (DOI) | Reports written: February 13, 2017 | The DOI’s Bureau of Land Management’s language about the purpose of the 2015 Hydraulic Fracturing Rule and a link to that rule from a page on regulations for onshore energy production were removed. Additionally, a section on, and link to, the proposed Methane Waste Prevention Rule was removed.
Department of State | Report written: February 10, 2017 (Updated: April 12, 2017) | The description paragraph for the Office of Global Change has been significantly changed. In particular, the terms “adaptation” and “sustainable landscapes” have been added, while the term “greenhouse gas” has been removed. Several links, including one to the Climate Action Report, were removed.
Department of Energy (DOE) | Reports written: February 8, 2017 | On the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) website, language and content on the Energy Kids educational pages describing environmental impacts of various energy sources has been changed and removed to downplay the harms of nonrenewable energy sources.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Report written: January 31, 2017 | The description of the role of the Office of Water’s Office of Science and Technology, in the EPA, removed any mention of science, and replaced a mission of developing scientific foundations for protecting people with developing economically and technologically feasible industry performance standards.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) | Reports written: January 29, 2017 | Links to and descriptions of environmental and climate change programs which establish collaborations with international, federal, interagency, and tribal partners were removed from the EPA’s Federal Partner Collaborations page.
Note: Reports 1 and 2 were co-released
Department of State and Department of Energy (DOE) | Reports written: January 26, 2017 | On the Department of State’s website, the descriptions of the Office of Global Change and the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change were changed. In addition, pages relating to climate change agreements, such as a page about the Climate Action Report, were removed. On the DOE’s website, the Climate Action Plan page was removed.